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Building officials can be a great resource

It’s been ages since we’ve talked about the importance of building inspectors. So today is the day! And you can’t talk about building inspectors without mentioning the importance of building codes!


Codes were created because public safety is a top priority for government agencies. Building any structure in a uniform manner assures you, as well as future owners or contractors working on it, that certain conditions will exist. Building up to today’s code may even help lower your insurance rates.

One of the earliest known building codes was simple. If the house you built fell down and killed the homeowner, you were killed. Simple! Today’s codes are a little more complex and can seem about as ever changing as the tax laws! That is one of the areas where your local building official can really help you.


Some people think of building officials as adversarial and hard-to-please – so many rules and so little tolerance for creative building practices. Actually, they can be one of your best pre-design resources – especially if you plan to do the work yourself.

For one thing, they are certified building code experts and have full authority to interpret and enforce the Uniform Building Code in their jurisdiction.

It’s the building official’s job to know the ins and outs of this code. A building inspector’s code interpretations are based on the local conditions and necessities of the project site.

For example, building in a high wind zone or in a known flood area has specific requirements. It is important to design your project around any prevailing code conditions. After all, the codes are there to protect you.

It is much easier and smarter to find this information first than to risk doing something over. So ask your local building officials lots of questions before you plan your design, but don’t expect them to design your project.

Your local building department can also be a great resource for specific written “how-to” field drawings, common material “sizing and usage” charts, as well as numerous other associated handouts.

While they’re usually very busy, building officials are generally eager to answer your questions and may even give some advice, such as when you need to consult an architect, designer or engineer, but they won’t tell you which one to choose.


Some remodeling or additions seem so minor that people don’t think to ask if they need a building permit. That can be a big mistake.

It pays to ask. If you’ve built something without a permit when required, the building official can not only make you pay double for the cost of the permit, but also may require you to tear down all or part of what you’ve done, even if only to see if it’s up to code.

Painting, installing a new sink or faucet or even paving your driveway do not require a building permit. But requirements can change from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

For instance, if you’re putting on a new roof in Aberdeen or Hoquiam you need to have a building permit. However, if you’re in the rural county, re-roofing doesn’t require a permit unless you have to replace the rafters or install plywood sheathing. Ask first, then nail it.

Once you know you need a building permit, you submit your application and completed plan. Several public works departments will review the information before issuing a permit.

The building inspector will check for code issues; the engineering department for structural issues; the electrical department for electrical issues; the fire department for safety concerns; the sewer department for sewer connections and the planning department for zoning issues.

Remember the point is to make sure that our homes are safe, sound and standardized – as well as good looking. Presumably, that is the goal you are striving for, too.

So, are you about ready to begin your project?

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